Scouting Notebook: Catch the Thomas train

You can find more from Michael Salfino at The Wall Street Journal

Finally we have NFL games. But of the meaningless summer variety as we kick off 2010 in our Scouting Notebook.

Lynell Hamilton’s(notes) torn ACL has cleared more goal-line duty for Pierre Thomas(notes), who thus moves up from a third-round pick to the second round. Reggie Bush(notes) is strictly situational. I know living with Sean Payton’s whims each week is maddening, but Thomas could be a 2,000-yard, 20-TD back if used aggressively in that offense so you can’t afford to let him slide too far. The departure of Mike Bell(notes) coupled with Hamilton’s misfortune raises Thomas’s projection well beyond last year’s numbers.

Chris Johnson is not a goal-line back, having been stuffed a league-worst 45 times last year. And he struggled to score (before ultimately getting in and limping off) in his series of attempts against the Seahawks. This lowers the TD upside and limits his value somewhat in all formats, making him a clear No. 2 choice behind Adrian Peterson. Last year was a healthy Peterson’s floor and it was still pretty darn good.

Arian Foster(notes) and Steve Slaton(notes) saw their stock rise. Second-round rookie Ben Tate(notes) (ankle) is out for the year. Slaton is the name and will cost more despite Foster being the starter. Foster loses respect because he was undrafted, but there are numerous backs who rose from similar obscurity. Remember, Foster rushed for 216 yards and three TDs in his two, late-season starts in ’09. The setup for the starter in Houston is quite good.

Proof of vanilla August defenses: the Niners David Carr(notes) 9-for-11 for 98 yards and a TD vs. the Colts. Yes, it was against the backups, too. Playing with and against starters didn’t help Alex Smith – 3-9 for 33 yards and a TD. Saying you don’t like Alex Smith isn’t a big deal because he won’t start anyway in 90 percent of standard leagues. But I do think he will prove to be a serious headwind for Michael Crabtree(notes) owners. Vernon Davis(notes) owners should be less concerned.

Donald Brown(notes) was working behind the second-team offensive line but went backwards seven yards in six touches, which will not move forward his quest for more meaningful carries.

Larry Fitzgerald’s(notes) knee sprain, technically a small tear as they all are, is not expected to sideline him for the regular season opener. At this point, do not move him down your cheat sheet. The more important consideration now is the development of a starting QB in Arizona. Neither Derek Anderson(notes) or Matt Leinart(notes) could generate downfield passing in the preseason opener and Anderson threw two picks.

Matt Bryant(notes) has won the Falcons kicking gig already and has a nice setup indoors with the Falcons. Target him as a kicking value once you get to the last round of your draft.

There’s no kicker resolution in Houston so expect the winner of Neil Rackers(notes) vs. Kris Brown(notes) to be a waiver wire find after final cuts (and the vast majority of fantasy drafts). The nightmare scenario is that the Texans carry two kickers by overemphasizing Rackers’s ability to drive kickoffs, which are important in the special teams context but not important overall because there is never any significant correlation between the top-rated special teams and NFL victories.

Sure, Jake Delhomme(notes) looked good for Cleveland. What veteran with something to prove wouldn’t against defenses that don’t even bother game-planning? Do not draft Delhomme, who will not be able to hold off Seneca Wallace(notes) (two TD strikes) for long due to either performance or health reasons.

Fellow Brown Jerome Harrison(notes) is a bit of a value now. He had over 100 carries his last three games and then gave way in spring magazines due to the drafting of Montario Hardesty(notes) (second round). But Hardesty (knee) has missed valuable camp time. This will delay his ascension indefinitely. Harrison can fill in the gaps early. Hardesty will have value but could be one of those guys drafted and then cut only to be picked up as an impact player when the games most matter down the stretch and into December.

Jimmy Clausen(notes) gets so much attention due to the public’s curious fascination with Notre Dame. Carolina though is Matt Moore’s(notes) team and Moore looked really good in 2009 – 7.6 YPA and 98.5 QB rating with seven TDs and no picks his final three games (yes, the Saints packed it in for the finale, but still).

Tim Tebow(notes) reverted to his bad habits with his throwing motion versus the Bengals. We should not be surprised. Schooling players on fundamentals at this advanced stage of their careers is usually a losing proposition. Tebow has been throwing the ball his way his whole life. Yes, his motion worked well enough in the summer and on Saturdays, too, for Florida. But it’s unlikely to work on Sundays for the Broncos in this or any other fall.

Michael Salfino writes for the Wall Street Journal and is a regular contributor to Yahoo! Sports.

Michael Salfino provides quantitative player and team analysis for the Wall Street Journal and Yahoo! Sports.
Updated Wednesday, Aug 18, 2010